Interfaith temple expands on Milford Oval
By KATHY CLEVELAND
MILFORD – The Rev. Dr. Stephanie Rutt looked as happy as a person could be. The founder and presiding minister of the Tree of Life Interfaith Temple was showing a visitor around the second floor of a building on the Milford Oval and and was all smiles.
Her church had been renting office and classroom space there for several years and, as if by design, she said, the other tenants on the floor moved out, making the whole second floor available. Now the space is being transformed to include a sanctuary, rooms for classes and even a kitchen.
“We dreamed for a long time of having our own home,” she said.
Tree of Life is an interfaith church – there are many images from various faiths on the wall, including one of Mother Teresa near one of the Buddha - and its goal is to bring the divine into everyday life.
“We are always looking for unity and diversity … because we believe God is expressed in all faith traditions. We look for the common bond of humanity,” she says.
Rutt is also excited about the TED Talk she recorded in June and that will be available online soon. It is built around three stories “about how you and I can change the world, one encounter at a time.”
In the first story, she tells of listening to the radio after President Trump was elected and a woman caller was angry that people were protesting. “I felt riled up,” Rutt said, and then she heard the woman say that her daughter committed suicide.
“Something stopped me cold,” she said. “I could see issues like financial strain and illegal immigration through her lens. If I could find her, I’d have tea with her” and listen to her story.
Rutt’s second TED Talk story starts with her relaxing in her hammock in her yard in Brookline and Mormon missionaries walk up her driveway.
“So I invited them to sit at the patio table. They asked what I did, and I could tell they didn’t know what to do with” that information.
Then she remarked about how much courage it must take to go from door to door. What followed was “three hours of amazing conversation,” during which Rutt and the Mormons learned they do similar community outreach projects, including quilts for foster children.
When the missionaries walked back down Rutt’s driveway “they were no closer and I was no closer” to changing beliefs, “but I had three new friends,” she said. “We don’t think alike or believe alike” but we are the same in our common humanity.
Her third story is about an encounter with a homeless man at a stop light in Cambridge about 10 years ago.
“I was hoping the light would change, but he came up to my window.”
Then she remembered Mother Teresa saying, “We look, but we don’t see.” Rutt gave him a bill “and he looked in her eyes and thanked her kindly. Today, I still think about him. He is my brother. The caller to the radio station is my sister. We are one in our humanity.”
Old-timers remember that Rutt had a yoga studio on Middle Street called the Tree of Life about 20 years ago that later became the Tree of Life School for Sacred Living.
The church started meeting informally in 2005 when Rev. Rutt graduated from seminary and in 2010 officially became a 501 (c)(3) church.
For a long time her church had space in an Amherst yoga studio, using Milford Town Hall for retreats and speaking events.
“I missed the Oval. I felt like I belonged here,” she said. “I missed the bells ringing and the fire trucks – we always stop and send our love to those in need and all the helpers who go.”
The Tree of Life Interfaith Temple is a non-denominational church and has 60 members, including those who have ministries in Florida and London.
Rutt is also the director of the Tree of Life School for Sacred Living and creator of the Tree of Life Interfaith Seminary, a two-year program, focused on the integration of prayer, meditation and spiritual practices from the world’s major faith traditions.
She earned the Doctor of Ministry degree in 2017 from Andover Newton Theological School (now a part of Yale Divinity School), where she graduated with honors. She is the author of four books, including “Conversations from the Pulpit: Engaging Islam and Countering Anti-Muslim Bias” and she posts on a blog called “Become a Force for Good: Rev. Stephanie’s blog,” and a website, StephanieRutt.com.
“We tend to attract those who are spiritual but not religious,” she says, people “looking for more experience of the divine. … We tend to be small but mighty. We’re on fire! Our message is really important today.”
The temple offers worship services twice a month and on certain holidays and everyone is welcome. On Sunday, Oct. 14 there will be a grand welcoming, from 2-5 p.m. at 263 Union Square, with music and food.
Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.